They are married off at 15 to men they've never met, men who may beat and rape them, or who do not permit them to leave the house. Or they marry out of love, only to learn their new husband has another wife, or plans to take one. And so they seek counsel – and escape – not through lawyers and the traditional courts, but through sharia councils, and not in Kabul or Islamabad, but in Manchester and London.
Now officials in the United Kingdom are questioning whether such councils violate secular laws and discriminate against the women who come to them for help. While still Home Secretary last March, before she became Prime Minister, Theresa May initiated the first of an ongoing series of investigations into Britain's so-called "sharia courts."
Subsequent hearings have brought the issues into the public eye, but so far they have failed to provide any real resolution. Some sharia court opponents contend that they force women to remain in abusive marriages, or deprive them of their legal rights regarding division of property and other matters. In contrast, some proponents insist that too many Muslim women would be forced to stay in abusive relationships if these tribunals were shut down.